CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Many people have picked up foraging as a hobby during the pandemic in an effort to get outside. The Blue Ridge Poison Center is warning people to be careful when picking and eating your own plants.
In springtime, the Blue Ridge Poison Center at the University of Virginia Health System sees a high number of poisoning cases due to consumption of foraged plants. In Charlottesville the statistics mimic the national numbers, with reports of a 20% increase in plant-related poisoning calls.
There is an array of poisonous plants that have look-a-likes in Virginia. Many foragers in Charlottesville are confusing leeks and false hellebore plants. Leeks are used for cooking, and often for medicinal purposes, while false hellebore plants are highly toxic to humans.
Dr. Christopher Holstege, the medical director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center, says his patients have experienced taste changes, vomiting and whole-body tingling. In severe cases people experience low heart rate, low blood pressure, and even death.
Many people make the mistake of relying solely on Google or apps to check on the safety of the plants they forage.
However Dr. Holstege says they usually show a picture of a plant when it’s at its adulthood, not when it’s first emerging from the ground. It’s most difficult to tell plants apart when they are first blooming. As plants - like false hellebore - mature they look different from the plants they were once nearly identical to.
Dr. Holstege says if an individual ends up eating false hellebore on accident and gets the initial tingling as a warning sign, they should stop eating it because the danger is in the dose, symptoms will get worse the more that is consumed.
“The Socrates Project- Poisonous Plants in Virginia” is a book available for free download. It has full color pictures of the 25 poisonous plants that grow in Virginia.
The book is a collaborative effort between the Blue Ridge Poison Center at UVA Health, UVA School of Medicine’s Division of Medical Toxicology, and the Virginia Masters Naturalists Program.